The Impact of Television on the Film Industry
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The advent of television and television shows may have come long after film, but it enhanced film production almost instantly. Television naturally derived from early film since each uses basically the same medium: the motion picture camera. Since film had already set a base in the industry and mastered the new techniques and technology of cinematography, television had the opportunity to learn from film?s mistakes and advance itself quickly. For this reason, television evolved very rapidly and was able to develop its own technology and techniques separate from film. The concept of television became so popular and gained so much success that Hollywood began experimenting with the technology and techniques television had brought about. The teacher was learning from the pupil.
As Nelson explains in The History of Television Technology, Electronically scanning systems were independently and almost simultaneously developed in the 1920’s and ’30’s. Utilizing such inventions as the German cathode-ray tube and the iconoscope, two American researchers invented the electronic television system. Television sets, computers, automated teller machines, video game machines, video cameras, monitors, oscilloscopes and radar displays all contain cathode-ray tubes; they operate based on a screen that emits a visible light when struck by a beam of electrons. Russian scientists attached this technology to a camera, and using mirror-drum scanning transmitted crude geometrical patterns onto the first television screen, called the iconoscope. Mirror-drum scanning was a light, efficient, mechanical scanner and in its original form there were as many mirrors as there were lines in the picture and each mirror was tilted at a different angle compared to the axis of the drum. As it rotated each mirror caused a line to be scanned below or beside the previous one.
These two new inventions paved the way for American television’s first public broadcast at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. RCA, having presented television at the fair, became America’s leading television pioneer. This new medium quickly became the talk of the town because of its demonstration of technological advancement and its potential convenience. Despite its popularity, television set production and broadcasting was temporarily halted during World War II. RCA was so persistently pushing for its television standards to be accepted for production that the government created the Federal Communications Commission in response in 1941. The FCC regulated the industry allowing it to thrive while the rest of world ceased its research and production during the war.
However, only research was conducted and not even America continued television production. Reintroduced after the War, television soon replaced the radio as the dominate form of entertainment in the home. During the first five years of the 1950s, ownership of televisions skyrocketed, once again affecting film and radio. This time period witnessed, for example, the closing of many movie theaters, as motion pictures competed with television for consumer attention. Television advanced from black and white to color in 1954 and from monaural to the addition of multiple sound tracks, including stereo 30 years later.
Television?s rapid and wide-spread success meant it would obviously have significant impacts on American society and culture. On top of pushing aside other forms of media, television had a unique structure and could therefore deal with new program content. The fact that people could watch programs in their own homes without going out led to the concept of shorter stories that could end or be continued. The smaller screen that audiences could get physically close to automatically meant the audience would focus more on the characters than the story meaning new kinds of stories could be told.
Despite earlier predictions, the industry, led by the networks, did not adopt filmed programming during its first explosive years. This was both a measure of preference, film was viewed as having greater production costs and necessity the networks were not yet willing to strike deals with Hollywood. The result was the live programming, with each show airing 52 weeks of the year, that defined the medium’s Golden Age. Television?s Golden Age consisted mainly of variety shows because of their similarity to radio programs. As the nation’s economy grew and the population expanded, television and advertising executives turned to dramatic shows as a programming strategy to elevate the status of television and to attract the growing and increasingly important suburban family audience. Golden age dramas quickly became the ideal marketing vehicle for major U.S. corporations seeking to display their products favorably before a national audience.
Thus, in the 1960’s, the sitcom developed. Situation Comedies followed families experiencing common, everyday situations but adding humor to. Sitcoms gained popularity quickly and were unique to television. The most significant contributor to early television was Desi Arnaz with his sitcom I Love Lucy. The success of I Love Lucy is unparalleled in the history of television. The combination of Arnaz?s business skills and his wife Lucille Ball?s comedic talent swept the nation. The cinematic innovations of the I Love Lucy show made it very popular among producers. Arnaz made the decision to film it, rather than do it live, making it possible to have a high-quality print of each episode available for endless re-broadcasts, as opposed to the poor quality kinescopes of live shows. The reruns, sold to independent stations after I Love Lucy left the network, and translated into virtually every language for foreign distribution, made millions. This eventually set the pattern for all of television.
According to The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows Initially studios were skeptical of reruns. They feared viewers would not be as interested watching a show the second time because it was not live and new, thus significantly lowering ratings. The appeal of reusable filmed programs eventually resulted in the shift of overall television production from New York, where it had all started, to Hollywood, where the film facilities were. The shift put television studios closer to film studios allowing them to learn techniques from each other. Although television put a strain on the distribution sector of film, film adapted by making made-for-TV-movies. Audiences could now watch films in the comfort of their own homes through these merged media. Stations discovered through re-airing films that re-airing syndicated series did not necessarily lose viewers and advertisers. More television shows were recorded onto film like I Love Lucy and became reruns relieving pressure from television producers to create a constant stream of live programing.
With the steady rise in popularity of I Love Lucy, the photographic methods employed by the show?s cinematographer Karl Freund and his camera crews were creating widespread interest among producers of motion pictures?both major and television. Production executives from nearly every Hollywood studio scouted the show during filming and praised Freund for his achievements. During an interview for an article for American Cinematographer Magazine, Freund revealed details about the production of the show. The production style of I Love Lucy allowed for very few delays since the demand for the show was so high and it needed to be produced quickly. Hollywood films were well known for delays in production and picked up on the new techniques. The film industry was constantly battered by codes of conduct because of the social power it had, strict deadlines because of the huge demand for product, and tight budgets because of the extreme costs of production.
Many other aspects of the show made it appealing to film and television studios. The almost continuous camera-on-dolly technique employed by the show is adapted from standard TV camera operations for live shows. This technique was rarely used for anything other than the variety shows preceding I Love Lucy but Arnaz and his team perfected its use within the sitcom. Almost immediately other shows and films realized the value of the dolly to tell their stories; the dolly allows the audience to follow the characters physically so that they feel more involved in the plot. In addition to the dolly, the technique of simultaneously using three cameras during the filming to allow for editing of the finished product was something Arnaz developed with this show. With three different angles shot of the same exact scenes, editors could not flaw the continuity of their cuts.
The social impacts of the television on America helped change the restrictions that had been placed on media content. The film industry struggled for decades to be protected under the free speech rights of the First Amendment. In the early 1930s, Hollywood was reeling from a decade of scandals. Questions of a moral nature were brought against several of the main film stars of the day; in some cases, criminal charges were filed. Hollywood was facing the brunt of the public backlash. During the days of prohibition, moral issues were open to the possibility of legal control. To escape the rising possibility that Hollywood could face strict censorship under law, the major studios chose to self-regulate content. This led to the Production Code of 1934, created by the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, which declared that any film to be released by a member studio had to pass certain standards.
The point of the production code was to insure that the film did not ‘lower the standards of those who see it’. At the height of the film studio system in the mid-40s, the major film studios controlled nearly every aspect of American cinema entertainment: production, exhibition and distribution. In 1949, the Supreme Court ruled that the major studios were engaged in monopolistic practices by owning and controlling both movie production and exhibition. The judgment forced the studios to divest of the ownership and control of the theaters. No longer able to dictate the booking schedules of the exhibitors, studios changed their production strategy. Now in direct competition for theater bookings, studios increased production of high dollar projects, and abandoned their ‘B-Movie’ divisions.
In 1952, The Supreme Court recognized film as an extension of ‘free speech’, and protected it from prosecution under the First Amendment. It decided the New York Board of Regents could not ban Russellini?s ?The Miracle? under regulations barring sacrilegious film. Until that moment, the nation?s courts viewed the movie industry as just another business fully subject to government regulation. At that point American film changed forever and the floodgates opened, and the exploiters rushed in. They were free to make films about anything they dared to. But that did come with a risk. There was still public sentiment and regional obscenity laws to consider. However, with the overwhelming success of the questionable content found in the I Love Lucy show, film studios could afford to attempt their own brave content. Although TV and film may have contributed to each others enhancement, through the years, they have also developed separately.
Film today for the most part strives to make the impossible come to life and relies heavily on CGI, while television thrives in the success of reality shows as Telotte expresses in his article in Journal of Popular Film and Television. Film has gone back to its roots of testing every possible boundary until it amazes it audience more than it has ever been amazed before. Similarly television is much like it was when it first came out. The early success of live variety shows made television a unique medium and the most popular medium of the time. Today?s reality shows, though not usually a display of talent like variety shows, are live people doing things normal people do not encounter in their everyday lives.
The industries of both film and television were so powerful that could develop rapidly on their own. However, each experienced problems that seemed unsolvable until they adapted ideas from each other. Thus, making them a crucial component of each other?s historical development.